Hot, Steamy Devotion: The Sauna Pilgrimage in Uncertain Times

Andrew McDonald

Some still speak of the warm times. In dingy mods and back alleys, whisperings of steam, relaxation, and partial nudity make it clear: The Dream is still alive.  There was a time, in a distant era, when the Sauna in the Robert Crown Center kept Hampshire students warm and limber year-round.  Most students didn’t even know the sauna could be turned off until it was too late. We were ignorant.  We were blind.  It was the beginning of the cold times.

Today, the Hampshire sauna is as unpredictable as ever: some weeks, it comes to life for a few days, only to go cold again; sometimes it doesn’t turn on at all.  Whether the end of the warm times was brought on by laziness, sanitation concerns, or by some twisted delusion of sustainability, the situation is quickly becoming a crisis.  The winter has always brought about the seasonal migration of Hampshire students to dark, warm crevasses, and this winter is certainly no exception.  In years past, the Sauna has been a central hub for this migration, providing the perfect ratio of anonymity to sweat that students desire.  But what was once a sure thing has turned into a dicey gamble, and lives are on the line.

I embedded with Grant Holub-Mormon, a second year student, to document his pilgrimage to the Sauna last week.  Grant knows it is a difficult trip: the walk from Greenwich is long, and riddled with ice, snow, and heartbreak.  We bundle up in traditional garb for the pilgrimage: winter coats, hats, and gym shorts.  We would bring long pants, but we can’t afford the extra weight—the looters would spot us in an instant.  As we walk out the door and towards the horizon, I ask Grant whether the Sauna is even on.  What are our chances?  He looks at me like a clergyman declining a stiff drink–a foolish question on my part.  Grant explains that there is no way to know, he says it’s best to be optimistic, to hope for the best.  This advice feels less reassuring as we pass two frozen corpses on the side of the path—both are wearing winter coats and gym shorts.

I’m told they were first-timers, unprepared for the journey home.  These corpses have been washing up at an alarming rate this year, prompting maintenance to patrol the area with large metal scraping tools and assault rifles.    How did it come to this?  Grant says it’s an issue of faith; he believes that these two perished because their intention wasn’t sincere.

“The sauna was never meant to be for everyone.  We took it for granted, and now those of us who are truly devoted must prove it under harsher circumstances,” says Grant, as the RCC looms out of the darkness.   The warm times are over, and there’s no way of knowing if they will ever return, but for Grant, and others alike, this is a chance to test the limits of human devotion, and to search for something greater—and sweat is just the beginning.  

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